As the saying goes, Jimmies and Joes trump X’s and O’s.
Still, it never hurts to have a top-tier football coach leading the way. From offseason dedication to starting lineup decisions to in-game adjustments to player psychology to piles of paperwork, the head man’s job is never done.
Each has their own unique way of dealing with issues and challenges, and those decisions can have a direct correlation on both the scoreboard and the kids they teach.
Five East Valley coaches stood out for the job(s) they did in fall 2012. The winner will be announced later in December, but here is a sneak peek (in alphabetical order) at the finalists for being the Tribune Football Coach of the Year.
Rex Bowser (Seton Catholic)
After more than 25 years of coaching in Arizona and Indiana, Bowser and Seton are both no strangers to success. This year, however, trumped them all. Seton’s regular season schedule was again favorable, but the Sentinels navigated the loss of their starting quarterback (Ryan Bresnahan) for most of the regular season, not to mention the top two running backs and offensive linemen to injuries during the season. David Gesicki replaced Bresnahan until the playoffs and didn’t miss a beat, but the real coaching kudos came when Bresnahan was healthy enough to return and Gesicki was on a roll. Platoon roles rarely work well at quarterback, but Bowser’s team successfully navigated what could have been a dicey or even destructive situation between two successful quarterbacks. With both of them sharing snaps, the Sentinels’ offense continued to be difficult to stop and an unheralded defense shut down the mighty White Mountain schools in Cottonwood Mingus, Show Low and Lakeside Blue Ridge in three consecutive playoff weeks to win the school’s first state championship since 1997.
Tommy Brittain (Tempe Prep)
Though no fault of its own, the “shortcomings” at the school have been well-documented: No field (games are often played at Arizona Lutheran Academy in south Phoenix), no weight room, none of the now-standards of high school football programs. Yet Brittain has steadily built the Knights into a Div. V championship contender, highlighted by the school’s first trip to the state semifinals. Despite significant roster turnover from the 2011 and 2010 playoff teams, the Knights’ defense and running game paved the way all season. Tempe Prep regrouped after a two-game losing streak in September and beat the Div. IV state champion (Seton Catholic) and Div. V champion (Phoenix Northwest Christian) this season. A 10-7 loss to Morenci in the semifinals ended the season, but there’s no doubt Brittain is one of the more involved coaches among the smaller schools and also little doubt that his Knights would have given NW Christian everything it could handle a second time around.
Chad DeGrenier (Mountain View)
A 7-4 record won’t bowl anyone over with surprise, but it’s a new age of adjusted expectations for Mountain View. After a few years of decline, it seems like the program is heading in the right direction, and DeGrenier can be thanked for that. Mountain View finished 4-6 a season ago, his first at the helm. This year, the team made the Division I playoffs and had signature wins over Pinnacle, Red Mountain and Highland within a six-game winning streak. The quarterback platoon of Chase Funk and John Clark worked out well, and the Toros found a star in wide receiver Clark Brown. Injuries to Brown and others late in the year contributed to a first-round exit, but Mountain View unquestionably took a step forward this season. With several top offensive players back, the Toros hope DeGrenier’s track record of continual improvement comes to fruition next year. After showing flashes of being a top-tier team in 2012, it is a realistic expectation.
Joe Germaine (Queen Creek)
There were questions about Germaine’s readiness to be the head man when he was chosen as Queen Creek’s coach in 2010 after only a couple years helping quarterbacks at Basha. But he quickly proved his worth. The Bulldogs made the state semifinals his first year and the quarterfinals last season, then saved the best for the 2012 campaign. Queen Creek went 14-0 and won the Division III championship, 9-7, against Goodyear Desert Edge on a late safety. The Bulldogs resembled the Mountain View teams that Germaine was apart of in the early 1990s, with a solid defense, a running game which set up the pass and a disciplined program from top to bottom. Queen Creek rarely had exorbitant penalties or turnovers, which, combined with a large collection of talented players, added up to a dominant team. Queen Creek knocked off rival Williams Field in the regular season and beat a tough Phoenix Thunderbird team in the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs might not have the same razzle dazzle as other programs, but the work ethic and attention to detail Germaine demands worked well this season and could make the Bulldogs a perennial contender moving forward. This was the first state championship in school history, but Queen Creek hopes it’s just the beginning under Germaine.
Norris Vaughan (Mountain Pointe)
There’s no question Mountain Pointe had one of the most talented rosters in the state, but cultivating it is a separate challenge. Vaughan’s been successful at doing so since he took over in 2009, and it culminated in a Division I championship game appearance this year. After a tumultuous 6-5 season in 2011, the Pride defeated Hamilton, Desert Vista, Chandler and Mountain View, among others, in the 2012 regular season and avenged its only regular season loss by knocking off Brophy in the semifinals. Mountain Pointe fell short in the title game to Hamilton, but winning all those tough games and earning the No. 1 seed in the Division I tournament is a worthy accomplishment. Mountain Pointe has a lot of key players returning next season and has quickly ascended to the elite tier with Vaughan in charge.
Honorable Mention: Steve Belles (Hamilton), Jeremy Hathcock (Desert Ridge), Tony Tabor (Desert Mountain), Brian Walker (Tempe)